The Warrior Zone offers young, mostly single soldiers on the move a high-tech recreation facility and social outlet.
Soldiers serving on bases in Afghanistan and Iraq may not have many of the comforts of home, but one thing they do have is an unprecedented level of connectivity with the rest of the world. And in their off hours, soldiers often use that access for entertainment, playing games online with friends all over the world.
So when the U.S. Army was looking for a way to get soldiers out of their barracks to interact with others on bases stateside, the idea for the Warrior Zone was born. Opened in January, the state-of-the-art recreation facility at Joint Base Lewis-McChord (JBLM) outside Tacoma, Wash., offers troops more than just a snack bar and a pool table. Featuring more than $1 million in high-tech entertainment equipment, the Warrior Zone is a cutting-edge recreation and community center tailored to young, active-duty troops.
“A lot of the soldiers in Afghanistan or Iraq had these mini-technology centers with computers and televisions, where they would come back from patrol and play games,” says Adam Wyden, senior design project manager in the Commercial Construction division of Stellar, the Jacksonville, Fla.-based firm chosen to lead the project. “That’s when they began to realize that this was not going to be the typical bowling alley or rest-and-relaxation venue.”
Stellar has a nonappropriated fund, indefinite quantity/indefinite delivery contract with the U.S. Army Installation Management Command’s G9 Division, Morale, Welfare and Recreation (MWR) services, which spearheaded and funded the $9.8 million project.
The idea for the facility evolved from focus groups and meetings the Army held over three years. “They talked with MWR contacts to develop what they believed to be a recreational facility geared at the younger, single soldier — what they termed at the time to be a ‘Technology Center,’” says Joe Mark, senior project manager in Stellar’s Commercial Construction division. “The name ‘Warrior Zone’ developed in the design phase.”
“They came to us with a box,” Wyden says. “They had a rough idea of the types of spaces they were looking for, without any final architecture for the facility. It was like a glorified bubble diagram.” So Stellar had its work cut out for them. “We had the freedom to do what we [thought was] correct,” he says.
High Tech, High Concept
To echo the concept, Stellar created a high tech design for the Warrior Zone. The facility’s postmodern aesthetic mixes disparate geometric shapes and building materials to draw patrons in. It then expands upon the variation in surfaces, textures and lighting design indoors to create a flow that helps guide soldiers and other customers throughout the 29,000-square-foot center.
“It creates a sense of movement that leads you into the facility,” Mark says. “The design includes a juxtaposition of materials — concrete masonry systems, exposed steel, porcelain tile-clad wall systems. There are butterfly roofs and translucent-panel roofs, as well as flat-roof areas. When you talk about the single soldier — the people who should attend facilities like this — you’re talking about a short attention span. You have to get their attention and keep their attention. Otherwise, they won’t go to it.”
Instead of leaving the base to unwind at a bar or staying at home alone to play video games, the Warrior Zone allows soldiers to take advantage of recreational opportunities within walking distance of their barracks. The complex features pool tables, a movie theater, a restaurant and bar, a gourmet coffee shop and a 4,000-square-foot patio with grills and keg coolers. It’s sort of a military mash-up of a Dave & Buster’s, a multiplex theater and a FedEx Office.
Technology is at the Warrior Zone’s core. Its more than $1 million worth of equipment includes 16 gaming stations equipped with 55-inch high-definition monitors for Xbox and PS3 systems; computers with high-speed Internet access; more than 50 52-inch satellite televisions; and 32 advanced Alienware gaming computers. Any video game or broadcast can be “pushed” to any screen. Soldiers can compete in popular video games, such as Diablo III, side by side, with other Warrior Zone locations throughout the world or with soldiers and civilians remotely.
That connectivity helps soldiers feel less isolated. “Now you can get on the Xbox and play with the kid down the street you’ve played with all your life,” Bill Struck, JBLM’s MWR adviser, told NorthwestMilitary.com. “The world just gets smaller, friends stay friends and leaving home isn’t such an upheaval.”
Going forward, MWR will fund upgrades to the Warrior Zone’s systems. “They will never get to the point where the soldier has the current Xbox at home in the barracks and the Warrior Zone has an Atari,” Wyden says.
The building also houses the JBLM offices of Better Opportunities for Single Soldiers (BOSS), a program that helps single soldiers create and manage their own recreation and community-service activities. Recent options included volunteering for the base’s Easter egg hunt and a paintball tournament.
“The purpose of the facility is to appeal to soldiers coming back from a tour and get them to take part in recreational activities while being around others in the community,” Mark says. “The Warrior Zone brings them into a social setting with their peers.”
JBLM’s Warrior Zone will serve as the prototype for recreation centers at other bases. Each location will feature a similar layout and equipment, creating a “brand” that soldiers on the move will recognize immediately anywhere in the world. One other Warrior Zone has been completed in the United States to date, a less-ambitious design at Fort Riley in Kansas. “We were able to recommend an architectural ‘sbrand’ for the facility that the Army can utilize for future Warrior Zones,” Mark says. “They even took some of our elements and retroactively designed them into the Fort Riley Warrior Zone.”
Because JBLM’s Warrior Zone is the first of its kind, a design-build project delivery strategy was essential. “Because of the nature and the newness of the type of facility, the ability to have the design arm and the construction arm work hand-in-hand was integral to keeping the project within budget,” Mark explains. “When you’re dealing with a facility that doesn’t exist and never existed, it’s a more difficult process to keep under control without the checks and balances of pricing it every step of the way. That’s the advantage of design-build — getting the project done quicker and getting it in on budget.”
The building was finished in 13 months, achieving LEED® Silver certification, and its placement in close proximity to many single-soldier barracks in the North Fort of JBLM helped win approval for its edgy aesthetic from stakeholders. “You probably have not seen this kind of structure on a base before,” Mark says. “That said, we still had to operate under strict guidelines. There were regulations related to building size and type that had to be met. We definitely pushed the envelope, and they review[ed] the building with the understanding that it is not a typical facility.”
Since opening early this year, the Warrior Zone has proven wildly popular. Its Facebook page generates plenty of “chatter” as it keeps fans informed about its many offerings. But it’s the soldiers’ enthusiastic patronage and participation that deliver the real return on investment for the armed forces, according to Mark. “This is exactly what the building is supposed to do and it is doing it,” he says. “It’s different than them walking in and saying, ‘Yeah, I think I can eat here.’”
Project Name: The Warrior Zone
Owner: Joint Base Lewis-McChord (JBLM)/U.S. Army
Plumbing/HVAC: MacDonald Miller